The Conservative Party will face resentment on a scale last generated by Margaret Thatcher if it forces through a no-deal Brexit, Rory Stewart said as MPs launched a campaign to leave the EU with a deal.
The former Tory cabinet minister also warned a second referendum would leave half the country feeling “incredibly alienated and tricked”, urging Boris Johnson to find a compromise deal.
Stewart spoke at the launch of the cross-party MPs For A Deal campaign, which wants the prime minister to build cross-party support for a renegotiated withdrawal agreement built on the foundations of Theresa May’s deal.
Caroline Flint, a leading member of the group, said 50 Labour MPs were “interested” in getting Brexit done with a deal by the October 31 deadline, while 26 have already openly called for it.
And Tory Nick Boles said Johnson’s thirst for power could push him towards a compromise.
“He does not care about anything other than power and glory for himself, and if he concludes that the way to stay in Number 10 Downing Street is to pass a deal, he will do it,” Boles said.
Stewart, who joined the group after being sacked from the Tories for backing laws to block no-deal, said Britain had a history of compromise stretching back to the formation of the Church of England, which he described as a “fudge”.
He said: “If we were to go down a no deal Brexit road, we would end up with about half the country very angry and alienated.
“They would feel about a no-deal Brexit the way that many of the people I have seen recently in the north-east feel about Thatcher.
“Not all of it is totally based on historical details but a very, very deep story would emerge that a Tory no-deal Brexit was responsible for many, many ills.
“On the other side, if we went for a full remain, for a second referendum, you would have about half the country feeling incredibly alienated and tricked.
“So I think compromise a very, very deep truth in Britain.”
The group said it was open to seeing what kind of deal Johnson can bring back to MPs after the October 17-18 European Council summit.
But they warned they would not be giving him “carte blanche” on “any deal” as some other MPs have said.
Labour’s Stephen Kinnock made clear that the group was looking for Johnson to build on May’s deal.
And other Labour MPs said they would be looking for some of the compromises thrashed out in talks between May and Jeremy Corbyn, which were never voted on, to form part of any agreement.
This could include giving MPs a lock on the long-term future trade relationship with the EU that will be thrashed out in phase two of withdrawal negotiations, once Britain has left.
Kinnock added: “The prime minister is now in a situation, when he’s got three options as far as I’m concerned, he can either break the law, or he can resign, or he can get a deal.
“He himself said in Dublin failure to get real would be a failure of statecraft.
“There are the foundations of a deal.
“We’re not saying a carbon copy of that.
“We know he’s going to have to do his own thing and I’m sure he is working hard to negotiate that, at least I hope he is.
“But the reality is we’ve got something here which is rooted in reality, it’s been landed with the European Union, let’s move forward”.
He added: “This is not a unicorn.
“We have something here which is the basic foundation of a perfectly pragmatic deal that we believe can command a majority in Parliament and also begin to reunite our deeply-divided country, and even at this eleventh hour we think there is time to do it.”
He also suggested that Labour MPs would not have a problem if Johnson pivoted towards a backstop for Northern Ireland only, as opposed to the whole UK, amid speculation that is the option he is pursuing.
“I have yet to meet a Labour MP who has a problem with the backstop,” he said.